Police officers help to carry luggage of Belarusian sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya at Haneda international airport in Tokyo, Japan, on Aug.1 2021. Picture: REUTERS/ISSEI KATO
Police officers help to carry luggage of Belarusian sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya at Haneda international airport in Tokyo, Japan, on Aug.1 2021. Picture: REUTERS/ISSEI KATO

Tokyo — A Belarusian athlete at the centre of an Olympic standoff with her own country walked into the Polish embassy in Japan on Monday, a day after refusing to board a flight home, which she said she was being forced to take against her wishes by her team.

Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, 24, would seek asylum in Poland, said a member of the local Belarus community who was in touch with her. Polish consular officials did not respond to requests for confirmation or comment.

Earlier, Polish foreign ministry official Marcin Przydacz wrote on Twitter that Tsimanouskaya has been “offered a humanitarian visa and is free to pursue her sporting career in Poland if she so chooses.”

The sprinter pulled up in front of the embassy in an unmarked silver van about 5pm local time (8am GMT). She stepped out with her official team luggage, and then greeted two officials before entering the premises.

Two women, one carrying the red and white flag considered the symbol of opposition in Belarus, came to the gates to support her.

A Ukrainian interior ministry source told Reuters that Tsimanouskaya's husband Arseni Zhdanevich, had entered Ukraine. It was not immediately clear whether he was making his way to Poland to be reunited with his spouse.

In a brewing diplomatic incident on the sidelines of the Olympics, Tsimanouskaya's refusal to board the plane, first reported by Reuters, has thrown a harsh spotlight on discord in Belarus, a former Soviet state that is run with a tight grip by President Alexander Lukashenko.

The sprinter, who was due to compete in the women's 200 metre heats on Monday, had her Games cut short when she said she was taken to the airport to board a Turkish Airlines flight.

She told a Reuters reporter via Telegram that the Belarusian head coach had turned up at her room on Sunday at the athletes village and told her she had to leave.

“The head coach came over to me and said there had been an order from above to remove me,” she wrote in the message. “At 5 (pm) they came to my room and told me to pack and they took me to the airport.”

But she refused to board the flight, telling Reuters: “I will not return to Belarus.”

She then sought the protection of Japanese police at the airport.

The Belarusian Olympic Committee said in a statement coaches had decided to withdraw Tsimanouskaya from the Games on doctors' advice about her “emotional, psychological state”.

Belarus athletics head coach Yuri Moisevich told state television he “could see there was something wrong with her... She either secluded herself or didn't want to talk.”

Earlier on Monday, International Olympic Committee spokesperson Mark Adams said officials would continue conversations with Tsimanouskaya and had asked for a full report from the Belarus' Olympic committee.

The Japanese government said the athlete had been kept safe while Tokyo 2020 organisers and the IOC checked her intentions.

“Japan is co-ordinating with relevant parties and continues to take appropriate action,” said chief cabinet secretary Katsunobu Kato.

In response to a number of questions by journalists about what the IOC would do to ensure other athletes in the village were protected, the IOC spokesperson said they were still collecting details about what exactly occurred.

On Monday, the IOC spokesperson said it had taken a number of actions against Belarus' Olympic Committee in the run up to the Games after nationwide protests in the country.

In March, the IOC refused to recognise the election of Lukashenko's son Viktor as head of the country's Olympic Committee. Both father and son were banned from attending the Games in December.

Reuters

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